Moist, fruity apple and pear cake

Becky Krystal

THE WASHINGTON POST – My grandfather died in April. He was 100.

The span of Philip Pines’s life is almost unfathomable, a century of service (World War II veteran, history teacher), family (father, grandfather and great-grandfather), worldwide travel and much, much more. His long life also meant he was around for almost all of mine until very recently. How many people can say they had their grandparents for well over 30 years?

That means the memories come easily and in great numbers. For me, a lot of them revolve around food: The vats of Friendly’s chocolate sprinkles Grandpa brought us when we were little, the meals at our favourite restaurants, the stories about what he ate in his youth (invariably, it always cost a nickel).

My grandfather and my grandmother were also passionate, talented bakers, so thankfully, there’s a collection of family recipes to hold dear.

Years ago, I published their recipe for mandelbread, a crunchy cookie similar to biscotti. I also shared one savoury dish here from my grandmother, reader favourite Braised Chicken With Mushrooms, so a few months ago, it felt time to see what else lay in my three-ring binder.

Apple and pear cake with citrus and nuts. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Flipping through the recipes in Grandpa’s somewhat scratchy, slanting handwriting, I came across one that was a total mystery: Aunt Dora’s Fruit and Nut Cake. Who was Aunt Dora? And what was this recipe I had photocopied but never made or even tasted?

Alas, my mom and I had no idea who Dora was. I also had no idea that this was a favorite cake of my grandfather’s that he talked about even toward the end of his life.

My mom remembered the cake but didn’t have the recipe – and didn’t know I did. The missed opportunity haunted me. I could have made this for him, and it would have made him so happy! Bittersweet as it was, I knew I had to try it.

Easier said than done.

As is typical in family recipes, a few key details were missing. When does the oil in the ingredients get added to the batter? What pan is it baked in? And how long to bake it? The instructions say one hour, but an annotation at the top said “bake longer 9/81”. (An hour turned out to be perfect.) The recipe was similar to another family favourite cake, so I did what I knew and hoped for the best.

I uncovered a treasure I didn’t know I had. Loaded with shredded apple and pear that melt into the batter, packed with citrus (zest and pureed flesh) and studded with nuts, the cake was a winner. Thanks to the oil – it’s dairy-free – and fruit, the crumb is plush and tender, something like a cross between banana and zucchini breads.

It’s homey and nostalgic, the kind of old-fashioned treat many of us associate with grandparents. While there’s some busy work involved in prepping the fruit, it’s simple and straightforward, and the batter can be stirred together by hand. The towering Bundt is a beautiful thing to behold, though you can also make it in a nine-by-13-inch pan. All the cake needs at the end is a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for an easy touch of elegance.

It was no mystery why my grandfather loved it. Now future generations will, too.

APPLE AND PEAR CAKE WITH CITRUS AND NUTS

This loaded cake bursting with fall fruit, citrus and nuts shares a lot of the same moist, tender and homey comfort as your typical banana or zucchini bread. Shredded apple and pear melt into the batter, which boasts a lively jolt of lemon and orange in the form of zest and pureed flesh.

The recipe was a favourite of Washington Post staff writer Becky Krystal’s grandparents, and the oil-based (dairy-free) Bundt has plenty of nostalgic appeal.

The cake is easily stirred together by hand, but you can use a stand or hand mixer, if you prefer. We tested this recipe in both a large (10- to 15-cup) Bundt pan and a nine-by-13-inch pan. If you choose the latter, see the VARIATION, below.

Make Ahead: If you can, make the cake a day in advance (wait to dust with confectioners’ sugar until serving); the flavour will improve as it sits. The baked cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days. Wrap and freeze individual slices for up to one month.

INGREDIENTS

Three cups (375 grammes) all-purpose flour

One teaspoon baking soda

One tablespoon baking powder

Half teaspoon kosher salt

One lemon

One medium orange

Two cups (400 grammes) granulated sugar

Four large eggs

Three-quarter cup vegetable oi

One teaspoon vanilla extract

Two large apples (about 20 ounces/560 grammes total), peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater, excess liquid squeezed out

One ripe pear, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater

One cup (100 grammes) finely chopped nuts, such as pecans and walnuts

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat a large (10- to 15-cup) Bundt pan with baking spray, or grease thoroughly with a thin layer of vegetable oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Remove the zest from the lemon and orange using a rasp-style grater, such as a Microplane. You should have about one teaspoon lemon zest and one tablespoon orange zest (don’t get hung up on the exact amounts). Peel and discard the remaining skin from the fruit. Coarsely chop the flesh, removing any seeds. Using an immersion blender or traditional blender, puree the flesh of the fruits together until completely broken down. Reserve half cup of the puree and discard or re-purpose the rest, such as stirring it into sparkling water.

Transfer the lemon and orange zests to a large bowl along with the granulated sugar and rub together with your fingers until the sugar is moistened and fragrant.

Add the eggs, oil and vanilla extract and beat vigourously with a whisk until smooth and thoroughly combined. Using about a third of each, whisk in the flour mixture and half cup pureed fruit in three alternating additions, beating well after each.

Once the batter thickens, you can switch to a wooden spoon or flexible spatula for easier stirring. Stir in the grated apple, pear and the chopped nuts. Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing out the top. Bake for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let rest for 10 minutes. Use a small, flexible spatula or a round-edged knife to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and then turn onto the rack. Let the cake cool completely, then store or cut and serve, dusting with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

VARIATION: To make in a nine-by-13-inch pan, grease the pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, letting enough excess hang over the edges to form a sling for removing the cake later. Secure the paper to the pan with a few metal clips and grease it, too, with the nonstick spray. Proceed with the recipe and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool, cut and serve as above.

Nutrition (based on 14 servings)

Calories: 410 ; Total Fat: 19g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 53mg; Sodium: 236mg; Carbohydrates: 58g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 34g; Protein: 6g.